By Chris Kramer
Silvio Berlusconi is by no means a private man, even for a politician. His campaigns seem to have always taken advantage of whatever media exposure he could rustle, and reporters are unlikely to back off now that they can sink their teeth into a very personal story. After 19 years of marriage, Berlusconi’s wife Vernoica Lario is filing for divorce.
Lario is a former actress who has reportedly sparred with her husband in the public eye before, as he is often allegedly interpreted as flirting with women he then brings into his political operations. Even if actual infidelity is not present, there is an image presented that Berlusconi enjoys the company of others.
Lario issued a public statement last week which claimed that her husband had recruited actresses and models as candidates for upcoming European Parliament elections. Berlusconi refuted these claims, but did present a list of candidates that included a former Miss Italy pageant contestant. The prime minister also attended an 18-year old’s birthday party last week, on account that he was good friends with the family. Lario claims that the man never attended the 18th birthday parties of any of their three children.
The man who has so embraced the media as a political tool, is now reportedly positioning it as the scapegoat, responsible for the divorce. The theory is that if the media had not devoted so much attention on speculating about Berlusconi’s marriage and his interactions with other females, then the problems would not have flared and arrived at this point.
Also in his comments, Berlusconi stated that he loved his wife like "the whole world," but could only continue their relationship if she apologized and admitted that she had been misled in her assumptions.
Interestingly, The Vatican has also weighed in on Berlusconi’s very public response to his very personal problem. One cardinal claimed that Berlusconi was acting "strange," and more like an actor than a world leader. Another bishop has urged the prime minister to demonstrate more "sobriety" in his actions.
It is unknown whether this situation will lead to any decline in Berlusconi’s success. According to an IPR Marketing poll taken soon after comments from the Catholic Church, two-thirds of respondents said their opinion of the leader had not changed.
Divorce does not necessarily have the same stigma in Europe as it would if a major American leader divorced while in office. French President Nikolas Sarkozy went through a divorce while in office in 2007.
Whatever the ultimate impact, Berlusconi may continue to stage political theater at its finest. The man who used his soccer team ownership to scribe a campaign slogan ("Forza Italia!") may decide to spin news of his divorce in whatever way he can.
Sources: Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal